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Dalton Trumbo (#110 of 2)

T.M.I Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun

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T.M.I Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun
T.M.I Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun

The too-much-information age is a strange thing indeed. Take for instance Shout! Factory’s long-awaited DVD release of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, which takes place mostly inside the mind of wounded WWI vet Joe Bonham, a deaf/dumb/blind quadruple amputee. Smoothly and effortlessly the film weaves back and forth in time, from the present, B&W hospital setting (seen from third-person POV) to Joe’s colorful memories of the past to the trapped soldier’s vivid fantasy world. Adapted from the legendary screenwriter’s own award-winning book, Trumbo’s sole directorial effort was a film I’d never gotten around to seeing, so I was pretty thrilled when I noticed that the DVD contained a slew of bonus features. In addition to Robert Fischer’s 2006 doc Dalton Trumbo: Rebel In Hollywood, there’s a 2009 interview with star Timothy Bottoms, and the music video for Metallica’s “One” (a metal homage of sorts to Johnny). As if that weren’t enough, there’s also behind-the-scenes peeks with Bottoms and DP Jules Brenner providing commentary, the 1940 radio adaptation of Johnny (the book) starring James Cagney, a 1971 feature article from “American Cinematographer,” the original theatrical trailer and, oh yeah, a replica of the original poster! It’s like an all-in-one, film junkie overdose kit.

Which would be great, save for one giant spoiler, which I could have avoided had I not been so geeky that I watched the extras first.

The Brave One: Trumbo

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The Brave One: <em>Trumbo</em>
The Brave One: <em>Trumbo</em>

Trumbo, Peter Askin’s poignant, mind-stirring documentary about the defiantly prolific screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted during the McCarthy era, based on a play written by his son Christopher (from letters Trumbo wrote during that tumultuous period) is essential viewing for all film critics—any professional writer really—recently affected by the economic recession. To call Trumbo tenacious, awe-inspiring, a courageous hero doesn’t do the man justice. How many writers working today would accept poverty and prison, shame and exile to stand by their convictions—and do it for ten long years? How many writers in 2008 would have prefaced that with nearly another decade stoically working as a night bread wrapper for an L.A. bakery while studying at USC, repossessing motorcycles, reviewing films for a trade magazine—and churning out six novels and eighty-eight short stories (all of which would be rejected for publication)? To all those laid off writers I say, if you can’t write without a paycheck being involved then you’ve no business considering yourself in the same profession as Mr. Trumbo (thus you probably didn’t deserve that paycheck in the first place. Ah, isn’t karma sweet?)